Björk: initial thoughts on Volta

The new Neurosis album, Given to the Rising, was supposed to be out today. I had held off any downloading of it especially; I hadn’t even listened to the song the band themselves put on My Space (I’m still uncomfortable with a band like Neurosis being on a site like that). Virgin didn’t have it; HMV didn’t have it; Crash was bloody closed. A trip to Jumbo revealed that, while it was due to be out today, the album had only been ‘sold through’ last week. No idea what that means, but the upshot is apparently me waiting until the twenty-first for it. So near, yet so far.

More reliable on the punctual release front than Neurot Recordings (for the album is their first to be officially self-released. Well done) is One Little Indian. The album in question? Well, it’s a little late for me to attempt any mystery as it’s up there in the header. That’s right, today (technically yesterday) saw the release of another album I had abstained from downloading, Ms. Guðmundsdóttir’s newie, Volta. Personally I consider it her first proper new album in six years – since the magnificent Vespertine – as I wasn’t all that enamoured with vocals-only Medulla nor the random soundtrackage of Music from Drawing Restraint 9. Excitement then.

There was also rather a bit of hype. Rather Mike Patton-on-Peeping Tom, Björk mentioned that this was her big, brash pop record and that she was wheeling loads of guests into the studio. Like a good version of Madonna then. And hopefully a good version of Peeping Tom at that. Well, it’s not that it was bad per se, just rather disappointing, given the half-decade wait and facetious comparisons by Patton to Fred Durst and Sisqo. Oh, what could have been… Anyway, this album was going to boast such names as Timbaland, Lightning Bolt Drummer and Antony T. Johnson. Or something. And it turns out that my boy Mark Bell was doing some production. He occasionally releases albums as LFO and consistently rules the school. He also put me in mind of Q-Tip guesting on a Beastie Boys record. That’s one for the thinking cap wearers among you.

So I ended up getting the limited edition, specially packaged version and maybe I shouldn’t have. For a start it cost way more, and I have no 5.1 surround system on which to play the DVD audio. The packaging itself is extremely pretty, something of a modern day Babooshka doll, what with card cases containing gradually smaller ones (each with great photos of the lady herself with blue face and body literally ablaze), until we get to the card-contained discs. Weirdly, the front of the case seems to open up, but is sealed with a sticker of the cover graphic. I didn’t want to break the seal, so ended up opening the thing from the top. God knows if that was what I was meant to do. Anyway, the CD is now stored elsewhere, so the case is back in the cellophane, like that last Tomahawk album.

I was very impressed with the music itself. There were a few tears before bedtime on a message board I frequent because some people were disappointed with it upon hearing a download. Not wanting content spoilers, I didn’t read too attentively. Maybe they expected something different, which is weird as – like I mentioned above – this was always going to be a day-glo pop album, and therefore polar opposite of the lush likes of Homogenic or Vespertine.

The first song was, I think, a Timbaland one, and established the mood very well. Can’t remember too much about it, but these are initial thoughts so it’s all good. It reminded me, as the album generally did, of her Debut, from the ostensible simplicity of the mix to the gleeful ebullience of the vocal. I was pretty much happy with the way things were unfolding, in a not-blown-away kind of way, until ‘Dull Flame of Desire’ found its way onto the Death Deck. Man alive was Antony ever impressive on this tune. I didn’t mind I Am a Bird Now and was irritated by his presence on the disappointing second CocoRosie album , so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Bizarrely, his early entrance into the mix (initially a surprise to hear a male voice by this point on the album) reminded me of Burton C. Bell. Anybody who knows who he is without summoning the Great Gazoogle or Wikipedia leave a comment and get kudos. Anyway, the duet was so sweet and wonderful that I would have been happy it it never ended; it was even better than the Björk/Yorke duet ‘I’ve Seen it All’. Nice one.

The quality continued for another couple of songs until the very beginning of the second half, coincidentally enough. Not that ‘Vertebrae by Vertebrae’ is a particularly bad song, just that it was neither here nor there – the kind of thing one might hope would get quality controlled off the album. Things thankfully took a turn for the better to close the record, but the first half definitely seems superior to the second. I never thought I’d be so happy for Antony to return for the last song, but there you go. Possibly the most interesting song on the album is also in the ‘weak’ half: ‘Declare Independence’ is a pretty screamy noisefest that really pleasantly surprised me. I had comparisons in my mind when it was on, but I’ve unfortunately forgotten them now. Maybe it’ll come back to me. There was a strange moment when it reminded me of a fuzzed-out ‘Sugar is Sweeter’, but maybe that was an aberration. Good single, though, even if it was just a poor mans ‘Poison’.

And one of the songs reminded me of The Knife, which is definitely a good thing. Again, unsure (I knew I should have finished this last night…). Maybe it was the first track, actually. It had a boss, weirdo, chorus either way. A bit ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’, perhaps. Anyway, I’m happy with the album, as it was what I expected; no more, no less. It also makes for a quicker fifty-five minutes than Vespertine did. This will be due to the album, while reaching nowhere near the 2001 albums peaks, not dropping off to the extent that one does near the end. Or maybe it’s just because Vespertine is so emotionally powerful, and Volta intentionally frothy for the most part.

Postscript: There, I think I’ve caught all the typos. That’s what happens when you write straight to Blogger without the safety net of Word. Also this is an illuminating and enjoyable read. It’s a ‘special’ on the album, complete with diagram of how the packaging opens up. I remain sceptical on that front.

7 thoughts on “Björk: initial thoughts on Volta

  1. I’ll have to pick this up, and as for Peeping Tom — yeah, kind of disappointing. Albeit, it was still catchy, but only a few really good songs on it. 1 – 3 were good, and “Not Alone” was probably the best thing he has released in a long time when it comes to straight up rock. Of course, it was just a Dub Trio song that he sang on (did he write any of it? Probably as they don’t have any other songs half as good as that one). But seriously, IMO that album was worth it for that one track.

  2. Yeah, it’s not that I don’t like Peeping Tom, because I do. It was just a disappointment considering both the six year wait and the fact it wasn’t as poppy as I had been led to believe. There was talk back in the day about how Mike was going to try making it big with that album, go through a major label and stuff. Time went on, and a sheepish press release said ‘it’s on Ipecac’ and that was that. What was really frustrating was that we all know Patton can write – and excel at – pop music, from the likes of ‘Falling to Pieces’ through ‘Midlife Crisis’ (the section at the end with the layered vocals was pretty much the poppiest songwriting device you could use in the early nineties) and on to stretches of California. For a man who prides himself on being a sonic adventurer, the Peeping album lacked balls: it’s one thing to make crazy music, but he has issues reining it in when necessary. Whatever the case, ‘We’re Not Alone’ was a definite standout for me as well; it sounds almost like a Faith No More song. In terms of his input, I have to reckon the falsetto in the verses and anthemic chorus were all his idea. And more of the album should have been like that! Also: they have apparently just released it as a single, remixed by Dan the Automator. I haven’t heard it yet because it’s iTunes only and if I’m paying for music, mp3 isn’t going to cut it. As for Dub Trio themselves, I was quite impressed with their album. I reckon it’s a record that improves exponentially depending on the bass on your stereo, though. I first heard them on a Wire free CD and the sub bass was awesome. That same song was unrecognisable when I downloaded the album and played it on my computer. That reminds me – I should get it in. But yeah, that track is my fave Patton song since ‘Capt. Midnight’ in 2003. Worryingly, I don’t think he’s done an all-out great full album since 2001…

  3. lol@ G//Z/R references. I remember when I first read about G//Z/R and thought it sounded lame for Geezer Butler to do something not Sabbath. Yeah.So Dan the Automater remixed “We’re Not Alone…” for a single? That song itself was a remix by Patton of the Dub Trio track. So a remix of a remix is the single? Oh, Patton.Yeah, I was disappointed with it as well. The hype leading up to it was great, and then it comes out on his label to a few smallish interviews in obscure magazines (I’m pretty sure I read an interview with him in Bizarre for it). To get that out there, especially with some of the names involved, why didn’t he aim a bit bigger? I might give the Dub Trio album another spin, but I’ll have to download it or something. I had bought it, but left all of my CDs back in RI, so I’ll have to ‘acquire’ it as my laptop was jacked a few months ago.I def thought California was incredibly more poppy than Peeping Tom, well, except for Ars and Goodbye Sober Day, which were just off-the-wall-Patton.

  4. Tom: G//Z/R was Geezer Butler’s modern-metal project in 1995 (later changing its name to the less Cyberpunk ‘Geezer’); Burt was the singer there. In fact I was just getting into extreme metal in 1995, and was really confused as their single ‘Drive Boy, Shooting’ sounded a lot like Napalm Death’s then-current ‘Greed Killing’. Mainly because BCB’s gruff voice sounds oddly like Barney. What can you do.Anyway, that’s why they’re bonus points.Dave: I think Patton revised his expectations when he realised: (a) His album wasn’t really that poppy.(b) He was probably too busy to do major label promo duties.And yeah, remix of a remix I suppose. Agreed on California – I held off on that because someone told me it was a ‘surf album’. Damnit. I was told by someone else that the second Bungle album was ‘unlistenable’ too. This is why I never trust the opinions of others. Well, maybe sometimes.Man, imagine how good an album full of stuff like ‘A Small Victory’, ‘Retrovertigo’ and ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ would have been…

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